Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Power of Betrayal

I run several games set in the 10th Age. These are somewhat simultaneous, essentially being amalgamations of the core group with different folks left out in order to make sure we always have a game to play; when one player isn't there, we play this game, when the other isn't we play that game. When everyone is there, however, we play a game set in the slaving-kingdom of Essad, a brutal landscape of cruel Masters and poor lesser freemen who's jobs have all been taken by slaves.

A few days ago, this party was set with terrible woes. They've been involving themselves haphazardly in politics in the city as a way of making some money on the side. Their main goal has been to excavate a ruined city, the presence of which is known only to them and their extremely unpleasant employer, Drozon the Sage of Dragons. The majority of the party members have generally been evil, lending the game a violent and unpleasant feeling. They have fought (both to the death and not) in the arena, murdered innocent people to get ahead, and ambushed and killed their competition for Drozon's contract.

All of that has begun to change. During a deep delve into one of the three vaults that the insane wizard Durius Wyrmcrown built to hold the keys to the sealed city (long story), they activated a trap. It was one of those "leave me alone" traps, where if they had just ignored the lure of treasure they would've been fine. As it was, a good portion of the party was hit by a pair of fireballs. Standing in the middle, at the overlap point, and failing all her saves, was their henchpriest, Elethanyra Luaaline, daughter of Aros and Windwalker. She became a molten gobbet of steel.

As one of the only good characters in the party (she was henching for the other, an imperial Milean who goes by the name of Crispus to hide his bastardy and claims to one of the counties of the imperial heartland) her death severely shook the party dynamic. Oloz, the violent LE half-orc who was the nominal leader of the party, suffered an identity crisis nearing on the catastrophic. She was never very nice to him, but she had TRUSTED him, and he had positioned her in the killing field. His core personality was shaken.

He was in grave doubt about his beliefs in the primacy of strength and the necessity of lording it over the weak. Slavery and brutality, ways of life for him (and for most orcs), became things to question rather than unspoken assumptions. So, when Daelus Windspeaker, the high priest of Anyra's temple, accused him of being at fault for his tacit worship of Ashad the Murderer, Oloz went mad.

He fell upon the slapdash House of Ashad with fury. He murdered a priest within its sacred walls and drew the Right Hand of Salguther, Urgoz Warshrieker, into the open to do battle. The Ashadi were only in the city at the sufferance of the Rex Excator Hyrek Thur, an orc who had seized the throne and held it tenuously for several years. Urgoz fell to Oloz's blade, though not before searing the half-orc with a furious spell from his lord.

This disrupted the unstable political situation in the city. Thurayn had been firmly in the hands of the Council of the Three and the Exactor days before. The Dogs (as the party had become known) had been agents of the Exactor, clearing out his detractors and assassinating those Masters and High Masters who sought to overturn him. A few simple minutes set all that awry: Oloz's attack on the House of Ashad severely weakened them. The priests of Vodei, the Fickle Sea, swept in afterewards to finish the job. Violence was at hand in every quarter.

Rushing to defense of their spiritual brothers, the priests of the War-Herald spilled forth from the Black Dome, ready to do battle. Riots enveloped the city. Even the storied Iron Guard of the Exactor joined the fray, supporting the Talliates against the Vodon aggression.

In those hours, the Dogs thought they were done. Oloz returned, explained what had happened, and they simply listened as the riots consumed the Stews where they had their headquarters in an old shipping warehouse. They were preparing to flee, fearful of what the Exactor would do to them once he discovered his priests murdered and the city in flames thanks to his loyal and faithful Dogs. That was when Thebes, the counter-point to all their contacts so far, showed up.

Thebes (THEE-bess, a Zeshimite affectation of an old Gigantine name) was a good man. A former corsair in the pirate fleet of Wa'khar One-eye, he had retired after reaching Essad and opened an inn in the Veiled City where the most powerful of mercenary companies and the finest of wolf's dens can be found. He had supported much of the anti-slaving rhetoric and may have been involved with the slave rebellions wracking the distant Agricon, Essad's canal-crossed breadbasket.

He had been watching them for a long time, hoping to make contact with Crispus' secret and primary employers, the Weylic mercenary company known as the Bluecloaks who had sent him into Essad to discover what Red Drozon was planning. However, their continued support of Hyrek Thur and the casual way with which they dispensed violence caused him to keep his distance and watch them from afar to determine if they could be trusted.

But this... this was the flash point. He would now need to save them, or consign them as lost when Hyrek Thur had them chained to the pillars on the Walk of the Masters to die of exposure. So he confronted them, explained rapidly who he was, and took them to safety in his inn. He warned them of the dangers in entering the city and hid them in the high tower of the Painted Jaguar, on the fifth and top floor.

Takal Naghast, a moon-goblin who had joined the Dogs recently, found Thebes to be irritating and noxious. His stance on slavery (he was against it) pushed Takal over the edge. Frustrated with the Dogs, he made a secret midnight journey through the black rains of Vodei's Sturm which was sweeping the city and throwing bolts of lightning at knots of Iron Guard and the assembled War-Heralds... into the safehouse of Tilbarat the Collector.

The Collector, an uneasy former ally of the Dogs, was furious. The self-styled spymaster of Thurayn lived in a dingy archive of ancient manuscripts hidden beneath the city. Furious at the actions of Oloz for jeopardizing his connection with the Three, the Collector's men pulled Takal below. While the black rain pounded above, Takal gave up the location of the party in the hopes that the Collector would ask him to spy on them and feed him information. Instead, he sent his legion of wererats to annihilate them.

The wages of sin are death, but when the wererats arrived at the Jaguar, Thebes' was alerted to their presence by his jungle-cat (brought all the way from his home in Zesh), Lyrex. He rushed to the top of the tower while the rats were slaying the guests and servants in the inn, searching for the Dogs. Arming himself and screaming at them to do likewise, the Dogs' most fearsome battle began. It was a battle to save not only their lives, but their souls: the nascent transformation of Oloz was completed with a baptism in Skinchanger blood as they battled their way from the heights of the Jaguar's tower deep to its cellar where Thebes' armor and weapons had been stashed for nearly five years.

1 comment:

  1. This whole session, everything from when Oloz returned from the house of Ashad, to when the truncated party took refuge in the Temple of the Winds, was absolutely cinematic.